The Philadelphia Eagles desperately want to make it four wins in succession when they meet the New York Giants at Giants Stadium today because if they do their opponents' play-off hopes will be all but dead. If the Eagles (8-4) can hold off the slumping Giants (7-5) it would leave New York two games behind them in the NFC East race and Philadelphia in command with three games to play, a not impossible margin to overcome but close to it.
It would also assure the Eagles of no worse than a divisional tie with the Dallas Cowboys (8-4), who must try to keep pace by defeating the in-form San Diego Chargers (9-3), who have not lost since October and who have made a habit of winning in December over the past few years - 15 consecutive games, to be precise. That figure is particularly significant because over the past three seasons the Cowboys have proved that December is not their time of year.
Dallas head coach Wade Phillips is 30-14 in regular season games since 2007, second only to the Patriots' Bill Belichick, but his team are a dismal 3-6 in December in those years and 0-1 in the play-offs. The numbers are just as bad for the Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo, who is 5-9 in December, including a loss last Sunday in which he threw for 392 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and still saw his team beaten by the Giants and forced into a tie with the Eagles in the standings.
While Philadelphia can do nothing to influence what happens in Dallas, they can take care of their own business and damage the Giants' play-off hopes if they continue to play as they have of late. The Eagles have won three straight and destroyed the Giants 40-7 on November 1, a game the Giant's head coach Tom Coughlin has not forgotten and does not want his team to forget. "I think we are well aware of the first game this year," Coughlin said. "We gave up a lot of big plays. We didn't stop the run."
Frankly, they didn't stop anything, a problem with their slumping defence in recent weeks. Last Sunday, Coughlin shook up his starting line-up by inserting Mathais Kiwanuka at defensive end and Jonathan Goff at linebacker. With middle linebacker Antonio Pierce out for the season, the pass rush seemingly blunted and their secondary in tatters, New York will go with those new starters again but will have their hands full containing the Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb.
McNabb is completing 61 per cent of his throws and will be aided by the return of the explosive wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who missed last week because of a concussion. Jackson has scored seven times and leads the Eagles with a 17.5 yards-per-catch average. Yet the biggest weapon New York must contend with is tight end Brent Celek, who leads the Eagles in receptions and plays a position that has tormented the Giants' pass defence.
In the past three games, New York's defence have allowed an average of 298 passing yards a game and opponents are converting on nearly half of their third downs, keeping drives alive and a tiring defence on the field. Too much of that damage has been done by opposing tight ends. Yet the Giants still beat the Cowboys last weekend, 31-24, to stay alive in the division race. They did it without running the ball with authority, as it would seem they must against the Eagles, and without stopping Dallas tight end Jason Witten.
Oddly, the Giants' defence is ranked sixth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed but 25th in points allowed, which is really the only statistic that matters in defensive football. email@example.com